By Sen. John Thune
Thanks to better technology, innovative research, and greater access to information, Americans are living with more effective tools to help them pursue healthier, more active lives. These technological advancements have made it more affordable for people to own things like wearable fitness devices that help track their physical activity and other health data in real time. And with the swipe of a finger, people are using new digital platforms to find popular fitness routines or healthy recipes, or they can even sign up for a fitness class by simply opening a mobile app.
Not only has it become trendy to pursue a healthy lifestyle, but social media and other online tools have made it easier for people to connect with audiences and share ideas about how to stay fit, offer advice about how to make healthy decisions, or challenge people to get active. Whether it’s competing with friends and family to see who gets the most steps each day or tracking who completes the most workouts in a week, Americans are becoming more interested in finding new ways to achieve better health results for themselves and their families.
I strongly believe in personal responsibility and individual choices and recognize that when it comes to decisions about fitness and other preventive health routines, cost can be prohibitive for some families. Investing in preventive health is one way Congress can encourage people to make healthier choices and get active, which would help reduce the risk of costly – and sometimes deadly – chronic conditions, like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
I recently reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would encourage healthier living by treating certain sports and fitness expenses as medical care under the tax code. My bill, the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act, would allow Americans to use a portion of the money they’ve saved in pre-tax health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts for qualified fitness purchases.
While my bill wouldn’t cover things like a new pair of tennis shoes or athletic wear or fees for a golf or country club, it would allow for the purchase of certain gym memberships and fitness equipment and things like children’s sports league fees and cleats or other gear that might be required for them to participate (up to $250 per item, other than exercise equipment, and total expenses cannot exceed $1,000 for single filers and $2,000 for joint filers each year).
Among the PHIT Act’s advocates are professional athletes like Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, Olympian Carl Lewis, MLB National League MVP Steve Garvey, and NHL all-star Alex Ovechkin, among many others. I’ve had the opportunity to welcome several of them to my office to discuss the PHIT Act and the importance of getting young people, in particular, more involved in physical activity. I’m glad they’re willing to lend their voices to this cause.
My bill is also supported by industries and associations from around the country. “Youth activity is the foundation for an active healthy lifestyle. Cost has become a barrier to youth sports, and PHIT will lower that barrier to give more children the opportunity of a healthy life,” said Tom Cove, president of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
Healthy living is already becoming more popular, and we know preventive care is good for us, but I’m hoping that by passing the bipartisan PHIT Act, we can make it more affordable, too.